Kinkade Company Pushes Bogus Art, Dealer Says

      LOS ANGELES (CN) – The Thomas Kinkade Company sold computer-generated art as “unreleased” original work after Kinkade died, and used it and other schemes to hurt Kinkade dealers, an art dealer claims in court.
     Colorado Seasons dba The Incredible Art Gallery sued Pacific Metro dba The Thomas Kinkade Company, and Art Brand Studios, on April 8 in Superior Court.
     Kinkade, known as “the painter of light,” enjoyed immense success as an American painter from 1997 to 2012. His syrupy sweet art has been reproduced as paintings and in books, cards, calendars, and ornaments, via the Kinkade Company.
     Colorado Seasons says that at least one-third of American households own some form of Kinkade’s art. His paintings were sold as either “limited editions” or as “open editions” or reproductions.
     Colorado Seasons became an authorized Kinkade dealer in 2005. It says that in 2013, it was the second-largest selling gallery in the Kinkade system, relying heavily on Internet sales.
     Kinkade died from an overdose of alcohol and Valium in 2012, which sparked a run on his art.
     The Kinkade Company “suddenly went silent,” however, leading Colorado Seasons and other galleries “to worry about the future” of the company, according to the complaint.
     With no new inventory forthcoming, Colorado Seasons claims, the Kinkade Company “developed schemes of false advertising intended to cheat both galleries and members of the public into believing that TKC would continue to release artwork which had been completed by Thomas Kinkade prior to his death.”
     The Kinkade Company’s initial scheme was the purported discovery of a vault of original, completed and unreleased Kinkade art, plus partially completed and unfinished work, according to the complaint.
     The Kinkade Company released sold the art as “vault paintings,” in an effort to evoke comparisons to the posthumous work of artists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso, Colorado Seasons claims.
     The Kinkade Company also sold “‘Studio Releases,’ which TKC’s advertising inferred were painted by ‘apprentices’ personally selected and trained by Thomas Kinkade, disciples who shared Tom’s dreams and visions,” the complaint states.
     Colorado Seasons claims that the rumored apprentices did not exist, and that the so-called studio releases were actually computer-generated art.
     “Each of the ‘studio releases’ is a computer drafted piece of art work composed and complete by computer technicians,” the complaint states. “The only aspect of art is the highlighter on the computer-generated prints.”
     In a third scheme, Colorado Seasons says, though Kinkade had completed only nine of 12 paintings on Disney themes when he died, on a contract with nonparty Disney, “TKC’s announcement that the remaining three paintings would be completed and released led the public to falsely believe that each of the remaining three paintings had been sketched or worked on to some extent by Thomas Kinkade. The inference was further enhanced by the company’s announcement that the price of the remaining three pieces was to be the same as the price of the paintings created by Thomas Kinkade before his death.”
     That’s not true, Colorado Seasons says in the complaint. “The truth is that neither the vault paintings nor the studio releases nor the remaining Disney pieces were in any way the work or creation of Thomas Kinkade. … The truth is that the new releases of Kinkade art which have been released following his death are the work of computer technicians, which have been generated on a computer by multiple people.”
     Colorado Seasons says it “openly and vigorously objected” to this but was “discouraged on multiple occasions from questioning the validity of the artwork.”
     It claims the Kinkade Company has used Colorado Seasons’ trade secrets and proprietary data to sell Kinkade art online, in direct competition with Colorado Seasons, since 2013.
     It also accuses the Kinkade Company of unfair trade and predatory pricing. It claims the Kinkade Company largely eliminated retail galleries in 2014 when it launched a website so as to be the primary online source for Kinkade’s work; and that in 2015 it enacted a minimum pricing policy that required all dealers to sell products at or above costs that it established. This in effect created a monopoly and shuttered virtually all authorized Kincade dealers, including Colorado Seasons, according to the complaint.
     “Because TKC could lower its retail prices and market them as such, but independent galleries such as CSI [Colorado Seasons Inc.] could not, TKC was thus assured that none of its galleries could compete with TKC with respect to sales obtained through the Internet,” the complaint states.
     Neither Colorado Seasons nor The Kincade Company could be reached for comment Monday.
     Dealers have long complained that Kinkade flooded the market with his mass-produced paintings. Lawsuits from Kincade dealers began as early as 2006, according to the complaint, which says a court concluded in that year that the company had defrauded gallery owners Karen Hazelwood and Jeffrey Spinello.
     In 2009, the Ninth Circuit reinstated a $2.1 million award to two gallery owners who claimed they were duped into pouring their life savings into a doomed partnership with the company.
     Colorado Seasons seeks an injunction and punitive damages for false advertising, predatory pricing and misappropriation of trade secrets.
     It is represented by Michael McIntire with McIntire & McIntire, of Big Bear Lake.

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